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Murder In Arcady, my summertime delving into lives and loves in the rural New England township of North Holford

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Murder In Arcady, my summertime delving into lives and loves in the rural New England township of North Holford, made what I think is some kind of World Record.
While literary morons all around me are selling in the thousands, even the millions, Murder In Arcady, the fourth book in my Parker “Boomer” Daniels casebook, sold one copy. That is not a typo. Yes, one copy was sold in the six months from June to December.
I wonder who the lone reader was. He must be a remarkable person.
Since then, for the Xmas trade, I produced Invitation To A Few Murders. It has a jolly Christmas cover with a half-naked bimbo running in terror by a Christmas tree.
Unlike the first three Parker Daniels’ yarns, the last two are supposed to be comic. Not murder with a few laughs, but a few laughs with murder.
I am currently finishing off the New England mysteries with a sixth and final one. At present it is a work in progress. It will be a novella. This may please those who dislike my work because it will at least be short; but maybe with some long words.
In it one character, a Russian ballerina, performs a ballet with giraffes. This, one early reader said, was ridiculous. Yes, it is meant to be.
But in actual real life fact, the great George Balanchine (1904-1983) staged a Ballet of the Elephants with music by no less than Igor Stravinsky for one performance only in Central Park, New York.
This concerned only one of half a dozen colourful character, like Joey the Turk Palermo and Tony the Leopard Piano, which I hope will continue to amuse my one reader, God Bless him wherever he is.

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I supported three sons and several bartenders writing this sort of stuff I now give away free in these blogs

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I supported three sons and several bartenders writing this sort of stuff I now give away free in these blogs.

A beautiful young thing called Daisy came for some mysterious reason to interview me last week and told me that journalists no longer make money writing columns. Newspapers now acquire them for next to nothing off the blogs. I was lucky then, being a paid columnist and author of “colour pieces” from 1963 to 1999.

I also now write crime novels for no money at all. I have just published my fifth, Invitation To A Few Murders. My first, Death Dyed Blonde, was published by Quartet. It was half a bestseller, but only made enough money to go up to London for maybe two nights at a hotel, but no eating and no drinking.

The others – Murder In A Cold Climate, The Summer Stock Murders,  and Murder In Arcady  made enough to maybe hop on a bus and have a couple of beers – glasses, not pints.

“If you aren’t making any money, why are you doing it?” asks an old lady breaking into this blog.

It is, I suppose, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.

It was not always like that. When I was young and lovely and couldn’t walk down a street without sexy blondes fainting, I wrote a novel that actually made money.

I mentioned  this before and I’m mentioning it again because I cannot believe there was an actual time in the long ago days before colour television and mobile phones and trips to the moon when people actually read books. Not only read them but bought them. Libraries also bought books then. You could count on the libraries in England buying 2000 copies of your novel in those days.

Now, alas, I am a lonely old scholar remote from enlightened conversation. I seem unable to know the difference between the Yukon and the Ukraine. My very up to date No 2 son said, “Are you out of your mind? The Yukon is in Alaska.”

“Alaska, like the Ukraine, once belonged to Russia,” I told him.

Who knows what Commissar Vlad Putin is up to?

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The death of my old friend Lauren Bacall set me thinking of her first movie, To Have and Have not.

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The death of my old friend Lauren Bacall set me thinking of her first movie, To Have and Have not. She was 19 and Humphrey Bogart was 45. The became lovers and they married. The difference in their ages was hardly mentioned. That was in 1944 and they were happily married until Bogart died in 1957.

To Have and Have Not has one of those great movie lines. It comes when Bacall is leaving a room and turns to Bogart. “If you want me, whistle. You know how to whistle, dontcha, Steve, just put your lips together and blow.”

This line doesn’t come from Ernest Bogart Hemingway’s novel. In fact nothing in the film except the title comes from Hemingway.

The film script was written by Hemingway’s great rival, William Faulkner. I wonder if he abandoned Hemingway’s tale in order to annoy the great bearded bully. Perhaps he was simply following orders from the studio. But why should they buy a book only for its title?

(A few years later a very good movie, starring John Garfield, was made, under another title, of Hemingway’s book. It starred Patricia Neal, being extremely sexy singing “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone.”)

I think of this because someone has been talking about making cinema out of my first crime novel, Death Dyed Blonde. I’ve got three others featuring the same ‘tec in the same town. I was told I would have a “franchise”.

This pleased me because my latest murder mystery, Murder in Arcady, could not be made into a movie. It is a farce but it is written with what critics call “a poetic sensibility” – that don’t film.

The dialogue ain’t bad but the best of the book is the storyteller being poetic; in a funny way, and using long and unusual words to amuse.

This is the very opposite of what reviews in the Guardian, the Spectator, and The Times Literary Supplement liked about me, which was the “unfussy, flattened style. Classic American crime fiction”.

At a great age, sitting in a corner of my bedroom in my 17th Century West Country cottage, in a tweed jacket and club tie, and with a fountain pen, I have been writing what pleases me. The lady who does my typing for me says it also pleases her.

After scribbling away for two or three hours (I don’t want to overdo it) I have been going out to sit in my garden in the shade thinking of sex: a silly business, also disgusting, which I have now at last reached an age and condition when I can put it behind me.

I have attempted in my latest book to make fun of romance. I do however get sex one favourable mention when a leading female character says, “I am not a slut but I thank the gods I am foul.”

Where is that from?

I can’t remember.

Why don’t I look it up?

I can’t be bothered.

Shakespeare is dragged into Murder in Arcady giving me the filthiest line in the book: the eye that weeps most when most pleased.

I go now into my garden. I wish someone would write a farce as good as Murder in Arcady to amuse me seated under the shade of the pear tree.

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Real life is such a miserable affair that I thought it would be better for me (and you) to bring Farce to the rescue.

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Do you Blogland folk ever buy a bloody book?

Well, here goes, I’ve got a new one but I don’t know why I bother when I could be drunk in a nineteenth hole complaining about my putter.

Real life is such a miserable affair that I thought it would be better for me (and you) to bring Farce to the rescue. I hadn’t done any novel-length farce for 50 years (Yes, darling, Papa Stan is that old). I was in my twenties and had something of a success way back then with a satire on the American right-wing. Better Dead Than Red, I called it and it won rave reviews in England, America and in translation in Germany and Italy. The Italians thought I was like Marco Twain.
Satire it was called, but I thought it was farce; doing anything for a laugh, short of farts and belches which is what the half-wit scribes use. I was surprised when I was praised for my dark humour.
At that time I was earning a crust writing a humorous column two days a week for the Guardian, a weekly piece for Punch, and book reviews every month for the New Statesman.
Melancholy used to creep into my work. I don’t think it is supposed to. You won’t find it in Wodehouse. Nor in the great Frenchman, Feydeau.
Voltaire’s Candide is the best ever, and it’s got melancholy.
Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 was the heavyweight champ of the 20th Century. Personally I’d rather read Aldous Huxley. Crome Yellow started him off in 1921. “Delightful, witty, worldly and poetic” The Times called him. Brave New World (1932) was called “the greatest novel of the future ever written.” In it children are produced to order. It is an insane Utopia. In the Fertilizer Rooms the Director of Hatcheries produces Alpha, Beta, Deltas and Epsilons. I think they’re turning out modern Wimbledon lady tennis players now.
I like Huxley better when he’s being comic and poetic, as in Crome Yellow or the first part of After Many A Summer (1939) when he describes the mad people and places in Hollywood, California.

Well, my new one, Murder In Arcady, the fourth Boomer Daniels murder mystery set in the same rural New England town,
is not heavy stuff.

So what is it like?
I don’t think I really know.
I start it off with this:

Arcadian charm wrapped in a summer day luxuriated on the lakeside beaches of the cozy New England township.
Up and down the pure white lakeside sand strolled stunners with sex-stained eyes; and also waddling overgrown tourist ladies of a certain age offering massive views of flesh, some of which was even faraway New Jersey backsides. “Bebop a Lulu you’re my baby.” A radio sang the antique love song. And the air was so wonderful in North Holford that nobody died unless they were murdered.

That’s the way it starts and that is the way I wanted to go on. The critics will shout: “Roll over Voltaire, tell Wodehouse the news.”
I kept it down to 37,000 words – not a shilling shocker but a threepenny novella.
Farce is always full of character who could not really be real – that is the charm of it.
In Murder In Arcady I’ve got Miss Prudence Appleseed, who looked like a chicken who was for some reason wearing a wig. She’s written a saucy novel called Satan with an Ice Cream Cone.
There is her twin sister, Patience, who is writing a history of the 119 species of Connecticut butterflies.

Also a gunman called Sweeney; a crook clergyman, the Rev Chuck of the Holy Astrology Church of Divine Guidance; billionaire Alonzo the Arch Dude Stagg; sexy Savannah Moon, writer of dime novels; Hapless Jones, a journo; Shotgun Logan, Chief of the Nonotuck tribe; his granddaughter, Tula Salome, a beautiful Native American princess. Plus Boomer Daniels, the police chief, his sidekick crazy Sgt Davy Shea; and amorous Dr Phyllis Skypeck, the police doctor.
What I am doing with characters like that, with French Canucks, Bog Irish, Italians and Red Indians, is giving the folks a real New England which is something the late John Updike never did. Ditto the later John Cheever with his Yankee paradise. In other words, farce or no farce, I am truer to life than them guys, as Davy Shea would say.

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Coming Soon…..

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June 26, 2014 · 10:27 am

The Summer Stock Murders – now available

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Martha Flowers is the most beautiful actress this season at the Lakeside Players summer stock theatre in the sleepy New England town of North Holford. She is not altogether a nice person. Rather the reverse, in fact. Her intention is to make every boy and every girl fall in love with her. She is successful. Then someone keeps trying to kill her. Enter suspects – would-be Senator Sefton Greenway, Memory Babe Picard. Zeets Norris, Marie Strawberry, Roz Quilty and Dixie Smith. Also Police Chief Parker Daniels, who has to catch the killers.

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“By the waters of the Parrett we sat down and wept remembering a dredged river,”

m2 (2)“By the waters of the Parrett we sat down and wept remembering a dredged river,” I sang to Handel’s Messiah.

I was far away in the Balkans doing my latest study of the leg-dancers of Bosnia when word of a flooded West Country came to me in the Continental edition of the Langport Leveller. I rushed back to a soggy cottage and decided to come to the rescue with Blog 25.

My television, however, that late night and early morning, was filled with men in helmets bumping into one another and then stopping for what seemed like an eternity before doing the bumping into one another all over again. I then saw that this was being performed before 100,000 persons live in a stadium somewhere in New Jersey (“the short-change state”) while 100 million watched it on their television sets. It was not a form of primitive religion.  No, this was American grid-iron football. Or put it another way: Yes, this was American grid-iron football. The Super Bowl.

It was too late outside to escape and go out to what I like to call a ragamadolion with an off-duty waitress from the Pork and Punter public ‘house. One particular waitress is such the ruggedest voluptuary that even the cops cheer the assorted sex stimuli on display.

I digress, but what the hell else can I do in weather like this?

I suppose I could plug my thrilling tale of blood and lust in the snowbanks of rural New England, Murder In A Cold Climate, or my other amazing murder mystery, Death Dyed Blonde. As you can see by that last title, this is pretty high-hat intellectual stuff up there with Kafka and a few more of the boys down at the existential bistro. When the books were not to be translated into the Grecian and Norwegian I was disappointed. Secondary education in or out of Euroland is not what it was.

Never mind, as a member of the British Davis Cup team, which had a victory over America for the first time in 80 years, said, “Colonel Reynolds has a way with words.” And this was before he read the book.

“Definitely a suitable party piece for any country manor house party,” said Lady Marjorie Truman Capote, authoress of Lunch at Boston’s Shrive, Crump and Lowe, and Brunch at Harry Winston’s.

Does what I modestly call my stuff need further booming? No, what about the rain?

Well, there is a moment in one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, written when he was two years old, which seems to embody all this West Country flooding – a sense of water, of rainfall repetition, the cry of the wind over an interminable watery expanse. These are the subtler emotions which cannot be translated into words, but are to be hinted at by chords and harmonies.

Will this do?

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In last week’s exciting blog

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 In last week’s exciting blog I wrote that William Faulkner was working at a lumber mill when he wrote As I Lay Dying in 1930. This was wrong. He had a job as a night-time coal-heaver at the local power station. Local being Oxford, Mississippi. I might be fun also to learn that his family said they didn’t want him writing his moronic novels under the family name; so he changed Falkner to Faulkner.

Also in a recent blog on the Milk Marketing Board “bull” should have read “cow” throughout.

I quoted some glowing reviews for my two murder mysteries: Death Dyed Blonde, still available in hardback, and the paperback edition of the thrilling Murder In A Cold Climate.

I seem to have gotten praise everywhere for these books. It was pretty much the same  with my first novel, Better Dead Than Red, published when I was still in my twenties and working as a humour-column-heaver at the Guardian. “Up there  with Dr Strangelove,” the Guardian said.

And “A magnificent social and political satire,” said the Irish Times in a page-one review.

But the one I enjoyed the most was from the Daily Telegraph. I don’t read the Telegraph anymore, ever since I stopped writing amusing obituaries for it – when the Telegraph specialized in amusing obituaries.

In ye olde days when my first novel was published the Daily Telegraph was a most objectionable imitation fascist sheet. It appealed to a large readership by telling stories about how everyone was always doing and saying nasty things about England.

This, for some reason, cheered up Telegraph readers. They also thought “foreigners” when not being insulting were very funny.

In the novels that the Telegraph liked there was a former whodunit.

In my novel everyone was nasty and also funny. That was because I, a barefoot boy liberal with cheeks of tan, was destroying the extreme right-wing with savage satire.

I didn’t think it would be reviewed by the Telegraph, but there it was; reviewed by its Literary Editor just as if it were an important book.

There was one line in the review which I loved so much I considered getting it tattooed on my sit-upon.

“Sheer vulgarity,” it said, “covered with muck.”

I wanted to get that quoted in advertisements and in paperback and foreign editions.

Unfortunately the various publishers were not bored by reading glowing reviews.

The German edition, translated by the linguistic genius who also translated James Joyce into German, got an amazing review. “The best thing about this novel,” it wrote, “is the photograph on the back cover of the Adonis who wrote it.”

Apparently 16 blondes in downtown Frankfurt fainted just looking at my young and lovely self.

I am now ending my career as a blogman.

Adios chickadees.

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January 31, 2014 · 10:11 am

I must pause once more from writing my villanelles (pastoral or lyrical poems of 19 lines, with only two rhymes throughout and some lines repeated) and blog again

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I must pause once more from writing my villanelles (pastoral or lyrical poems of 19 lines, with only two rhymes throughout and some lines repeated) and blog again in a desperate attempt to get you to buy my little murder mystery, Murder In a Cold Climate, “a complex mystery with terrific dialogue, an entertaining pastiche with snappy repartee.”

I wish to speak of the enemies of promise which keep the artist from his art. Mostly it is, they tell me, one enemy: the need to earn a living.

The idea is that if the novelist was not forced to dig ditches, plumb plumbing, wait on tables or write light pieces for magazines he would produce War and Peace. Tolstoy, remember, was a Count (repeat Count; last week’s error was a typo) he did not have to earn a living although the old fool tried to turn himself into a peasant and went on working side by side with the boys in the fields. I wonder what they thought of the boss doing that? They thought the old bastard was spying on them, of course they did.

Byron was another lord who was freed from toil. What did he do? Got himself killed in a Greek war. By the way, few people know this, but Byron only scored 4 runs in the Eton v Harrow match at Lords in 18 something or other.)

Cyril Connolly wrote Enemies of Promise (1938) in an attempt to explain why he, the biggest brain in England at the time, only wrote one novel. His genius was locked up while he made a splendid living writing book reviews for the Observer and others.

The Cyril Connolly novel was The Rock Pool (1936), in which a snobbish and mediocre young literary man from Oxford, with a comfortable income, spends a summer on the Riviera in an artists’ and writers’ colony. He studies this collection, seeing them as the denizens of a rock pool. He is, of course, dragged down into it. Compton Mackenzie got in ahead of Connolly with his novels of Capri, and Aldous Huxley got in ahead of all of them with Chrome Yellow (1921).

They are all wonderful reads, much better than anything in busy, busy, grim grey today.

Both Connolly and Huxley went to Eton and Balliol College, Oxford and the slow-paced grand manner of their prose springs from the lives they were born into, as Lucy Tantamount says in Huxley’s fourth novel Point Counter Point (1928), “You can’t cart a wagonload of ideas and romanticisms around with you these days. . . The good old-fashioned soul was all right  when people lived slowly. But it’s too ponderous nowadays.”

What keeps today’s wordsmiths from penning anything wondrous could be the speed of modern life rather than having to earn a living. For example F.Scott Fitzgerald was writing advertising copy when he wrote his first novel, This Side Of Paradise; Ernest  Hemingway was typing out newspaper copy when he published The Sun Also Rises, and William Faulkner was night-watchman at a lumber mill when he wrote As I Lay Dying.

We haven’t heard yet of anyone writing a novel worth reading while writing Blogs.

And what is a Blog? More disgusting-sounding today talk. I really don’t think, after 22 blogs, that I can go on doing this. As another kid with money, Shelley, said:

      “We look before and after,

      And pine for what is not:

      Our sincerest laughter

      With some pain is fraught.”

I think I’ll go out and have a beer. Or at least dream about it.

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Most clichés are true and some are getting truer.

1781486344Most clichés are true and some are getting truer. Like, for example, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

No author is ever happy about his cover, especially if it attempts to illustrate a character in the book. No, he says, she didn’t look nothing like that.

Some authors have suffered so much they stopped complaining. I speak of the Master, P.G.Wodehouse. The Empress of Blandings, Lord Emsworth’s prize pig, is a Berkshire Black, but illustrators present all sorts of white pigs; some with black or brown spots.

A newish edition of Leave it to Psmith  has the Efficient Baxter, Lord Emsworth’s pain in the ass secretary, outside Blandings Castle hurling flower pots through Lord Emsworth’s bedroom window. This truly classic comedy was first published in 1923 so you’d think illustrators would know what’s what by now. Not a bit of it, the excellent cover is ruined because Baxter is wearing green panamas. In the story Baxter is wearing lemon-coloured panamas and they are important because the light colour made Baxter visible to Lord Emsworth.

Another error of colour is the hair of Jane Abbott, the main gal in Summer Moonshine (1937). Wodehouse describes Jane as having “fair hair”, but in the otherwise exceptional drawing her hair is red. Joe, the hero of the book, sometimes calls Jane Ginger. Jane hates that name but I guess that was the reason for the red hair.

From my years at Punch, I learned that cartoonists did not read books; or read at all. The only illustrator who was spot on was Posy Simmons. When I wrote a column for the Guardian she often illustrated it. I was sometimes unhappy about the way Posy drew me. I wanted something more dramatic. “Let’s face it,” she said, “no matter what you do you’ll always be Mr Chips.”

Evelyn Waugh illustrated his first novel, Decline and Fall.  He would dislike the covers Penguin put on the Sword of Honour trilogy. Men at Arms has a soldier who is obviously other ranks and Officers and Gentlemen  has a photograph of sailors running about on the deck of a battleship. This is absolutely wrong. This is a novel about Commandoes, not the Navy.

The final novel, Unconditional Surrender, is not so bad, but also not so good. Penguin fell back on a photograph of a much bombed street. It is the cliché shot. They just about got away with it, but it lacks imagination.

There must be many other examples. I remember Penguin’s first edition of The Natural, a novel about a baseball player. The cover showed men playing softball. It was almost like showing men playing croquet in a novel about cricket.

And what about your covers, Mr Stan?

I hated all the British and American covers of Better Dead Than Red, both the hardback and paperback. For the hardback the cover took longer to do than I took to write the book. The German and Italian covers had excellent illustrations; the German edition took longer to translate than I took writing it; I knocked it off at top speed, twenty hours a day, in one week.

That was when I was a boy in my twenties. My next book, Death Dyed Blonde, was supposed to have a dead, hardly-clothed blonde on the cover. They wrapped her in a rug.

The new number, Murder in a Cold Climate, which predicts the snow America is now having, has a cover which shows a country house that has been turned into a hotel. People are skating on the ice in front of the hotel.

There is a flaw and it is mine and not the illustrator’s. Where is the hottie ice-skating nude? Well, she wasn’t in the book. It is a mistake I will not make again.

From now on I’ll have a looker in the altogether, maybe with a gun in her hand, in all future epics.

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